Sunday, November 29, 2009

Make Or Break

I don't know about you, but I'm really proud of the Habs so far this year. They've been without their best player all season, as well as up to eight of the guys who had regular spots to start the campaign. Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price faced huge questions about whether they'd be able to rebound from bad performances last season. The entire team had to answer the 64-thousand-dollar query: would the Gainey-gutted squad find some kind of cohesion within itself before the competition got too big a head start?

Happily, Plekanec and Price have answered the bell admirably. They're both playing some very strong hockey, particularly Plekanec, who's been the soul of consistency all season. The team also seems to have found the elusive chemistry it was looking for to start the year. Passing is improving, breakouts are getting a little better and the PK has improved substantially since October. Early season underperformers like Maxim Lapierre, Max Pacioretty, Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and Price have come around and look like they're catching on to what Martin wants from them. Newcomers Travis Moen and Jaro Spacek, rookies Tom Pyatt and Ryan White and the resurgent Roman Hamrlik and Glen Metropolit have all done their part to help the team win. Off the ice, everyone seems to be getting along okay, and the personalities Gainey's introduced to the room appear to have the right mix of guts, determination and a strong work ethic.

The doubts about whether the team can play have been put to rest. Now the question is, can the Habs get enough points in the bank to make the playoffs? This month is going to go a long way toward determining if the team we love in December will still be around to be loved in May.

The remaining Canadiens have been holding the fort well in the absence of so many regular players, and most of us have bought into the idea that if they can stay at .500 until Markov comes back, everything will be fine. I'm not so sure about that.

Looking at the numbers, you can see the Habs have 26 points in 26 games to date. In most seasons, an eighth-place team racks up an average of about 94-95 points and is between 8-10 games over .500. If the Habs maintain their current pace, and if Andrei Markov returns in early January as hoped, they will have 45 points in 45 games at that point. That leaves 37 games in which they'll have to make up at least 50 points. If they can remain at .500 until Markov comes back, they'll need to pick it up to about a .677 clip for the remainder of the season. It'd have to be a 25-12-0 record, or any combination of wins/loser points that tallies up to fifty points.

I've no doubt Markov's return will help the Habs, but you have to assume it'll take him a few games to get back into top form after not having played for nearly a year. And we have to remember, Markov is a premier defenceman but he's not God. He will improve the PP, the transition game and, hopefully, goals against, but his teammates will have to be at the tops of their games as well. If any of the major players slump or if the injuries to important team members continue, Markov's return alone won't be enough of a boost to make the team win the sheer number of games it will have to win to get a playoff berth.

So I think this month is really going to be make or break. The points that go in the bank now take some of the pressure off when Markov comes back. It's not going to be easy though. The month features 17 games, including four sets of back-to-back matches...none of which see the opposing team having played the night before..., seven games against division rivals, a shortened Christmas break of only two days, and a seven-game road trip. It's by far the toughest month of the season. If the Habs can come out of this month at something a little better than .500, I like their chances of landing a playoff spot. If, on the other hand, they either stay at .500 or worse, under it, the post-season may just be a wistful dream of what might have been, if only...

In the meantime I'm proud of what the Habs are doing so far. They just need to do it in a way that racks up the points a little bit faster. I'm having fun watching them, but I'm afraid they're going to run out of time. It's going to be a tough December. Let's hope it's a good one.


Raphaƫl P. said...

Good assessment. I must admit I'm liking the side effects this whole ordeal is having on the team, the missing teammates are really bringing the team together and helping built confidence. Lacking talent to rely on, the team is forced to work J. Martin's plans, effectively turning this bunch of individuals into a cohesive team. Meanwhile the pressure put by the media is lessened by the fact that underperformance can be explained by the injury streak.

All in all, I think after the olympics we will end up with a much more weathered team that can play a system and that's confident in it's abilities.

Howard said...

We can't keep giving away points like we did on Saturday. We win the faceoff and the game is in the bag. Mental breakdowns at critical times. Moral victories will only take you so far. Like they say, close only counts in horsehoes and handgrenades! There's no such thing as being close to making the playoffs. I think when we get two balanced scoring lines back (Gionta is the key and of course Markov) we'll be in good shape to win some games in regulation time. It's still a young team, even with the grizzled vets like Metro and Mara, Hammer and Spatch. A work in progress!

DB said...

To make the playoffs I think they need to address the following areas:

1) Improve the power play.

2) Figure out how to clear their own zone on a consistent basis. The other team blocks far too many clearing attempts at the points. Maybe the wingers need to help more.

3) Get scoring from more players. It's not just Gomez, AK46 and Lapierre that have to step up the scoring. Pyatt, White, Chips, and Dags have to provide some goals.

Nice new format and it still loads quickly.